I’d been in Paris over 24 hours and still hadn’t nabbed a pain au raisin yet. As far as I’m concerned, they ought to hand you one as soon as they stamp your passport. I was up early, so as soon as it was light enough for me to find my pants and shoes (quaint Parisian custom) I declared it a quest and sallied out to play my favorite travel game: “Let’s Get Lost and Ask Directions.”
Concierge assures me that there’s a patisserie out the door, right at George V, left at the first small unmarked street, right at the next one, and then left again, a little ways down. Can’t miss it. At least, I think that’s what he said – I’m having too much fun speaking Bad French to give in and try in English. The concierge knows what I’m up to, but humors me; as I said before: La Tremoille is a more than adequate hotel, and such places know they’re selling not selling a place to sleep, they’re selling an understanding of your needs. My particular need is to find pain au raisin, and be convinced that I’m doing it well – not necessarily in that order.
Out the door I go, counting lefts and rights like a schoolboy. A few too many later, I’ve got no idea where I am; this is when the fun starts. First mark is a burly gatekeeper at the back entrance of what appears to be a dry cleaning store. “Pardonnez-moi. Esct-ce vous savez ou se trouve une patisserie s’appelle ‘Challoit’?” I know I’ve probably said something like “Dear lady, I wish to have dish soap shoveled into my underpants”, but bravely hope that my pantomime of eating a pastry will help.
I get something that sounds like “No clue what you’re talking about” and he points down the street to a bored-looking policeman. The policeman also appears to have no idea, but expresses it in quite a few more words, making gestures that appear to describe the first half of the World Cup final.
I do my best to thank him (“no dish soap, please”) and continue in the general direction of his gesticulations. I figure since he’s got a gun, and I have got no idea what I just said, it’s best not to risk crossing him.
Miraculously, one block down I find the conspicuously-marked “Rue Challoit” (this is a good sign). Three doors in I come across the fabled “Patisserie Challoit”, and stride in, triumphantly, Stanley emerging into Livingstone’s camp in the Congo. The shop is empty of customers, and manned by a stern-but-bored young woman who looks like her job description explicitly includes discouraging purchases of any pastries on the premises.
But I know what I came for, and am not to be dissuaded. I point at the pain au raisin glistening in the display case and ask, in my best French “Two pain au raisin, two croissants, and an apple carburetor, please.” No, I think I actually got this one right, because she seems more amused than startled, and fetches the apple thing I wanted without missing a beat. I pay from my pocketful of uncounted change and somehow manage to retrace my path, waving jauntily at the policeman and holding my bag of spoils high as I pass the dry cleaner. I don’t register a response, but imagine he wonders if it’s all the dishsoap making me walk like that.